The evolution of respiratory and osmoregulatory functions in marine calcifiers living in a high-CO2, hypoxic warmer world (PhD opportunity)


• Host institute 1: University of Plymouth
• Host institute 2: Pavia University

Research fields:
• T1 – Future Oceans: temperature changes – hypoxia – acidification

Subject description
Global Climate Change (GCC) represents an unprecedented threat to global marine biodiversity, and in particular, global warming, Ocean Acidification (OA) and the decrease in oxygen levels (hypoxia) pose a major threat to marine invertebrates possessing a calcium carbonate shell or exoskeleton [1]. This threat to biodiversity possesses the potential to impact a variety of services we (as human society) receive from the global oceans, including: food resources (i.e. food security), new technologies (i.e. medical and cosmetic products, bio-fuels, new genes) and various ecosystem functions (i.e. detritus degradation, biogeochemical cycling, degradation of armful compounds). While much is now known of OA effects during an animal’s life cycle, we know nothing of how marine animals will adapt and evolve to such (rapid) changes. Consequently our aim is to investigate the effect of complex GCC on the morphology and physiology of marine calcifiers over a number of generations. In particular, we intend to focus on the adaptability of specialised respiratory and regulatory organs in marine calcifying invertebrates, by conducting laboratory natural selection (LNS) experiments, culturing marine amphipods under set conditions of pH/pCO2, temperature and hypoxia and measuring a series of morphological, physiological and biochemical parameters across a number of generations [2]. Specifically, our objectives are to:

a) Experimentally characterise scope for further adaptation to rapid GCC of morphological, structural, ultrastructural traits underling the functional and structural integrity of the gills and exoskeleton, and of the biomineralisation status of the exoskeleton;
b) Experimentally characterise scope for further adaptation to rapid GCC of gills and osmo-ionic regulatory organs underling respiratory and homeostatic processes;
c) Parameterising an organisms’ capacity for functional and morphological adaptation for inclusion in existing evolutionary models developed by Cangelosi.

The Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre is a thriving research environment, where students have access to a unique range of expertise, world class well-equipped experimental facilities, and regular interaction with peers and members of stuff and seminar series (including visiting international experts). OA and GCC research at MBERC (and Plymouth in general) is at the very forefront of the field, and a critical mass of internationally-recognised UK experts and PhD students in the field are based here. Plymouth has hosted numerous OA-GCC related conferences, and Plymouth institutions are the highest earner of the £12m OA UK Research Programme release in 2010, and are well represented in the EU project EPOCA and MedSeA, as well as other projects. At MBERC, the candidate will use a state-of-the-art CO2/O2/temperature experimental manipulation facility to undertake multigenerational studies for the investigation of scope for further physiological adaptation. The candidate will have access to world class physiological, imaging and ICP chemical analysis suite. The candidate will receive training in all key intellectual and laboratory skills needed for the successful completion of this project, including supervision in the use of existing evolutionary models.

Founded in 1361, the University of Pavia represent one of the oldest and most famous Universities in Italy, and it is considered to date a national centre for scientific excellence. National and international meetings and conferences are regularly hosted at the Athenaeum, and international scientists regularly visit the University. When working for 3-6 months at the Sections of Ecology and Earth Sciences of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the candidate will have access to all facilities of the Athenaeum and and the Marine Environment and Sustainable Development Unit of Santa Teresa of La Spezia (ENEA – Italian national Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, Partner of the University of Pavia). In particular, during his/her visit the candidate will be using excellent SEM/TEM facilities for the investigation of structural and ultrastructural traits of marine calcifying invertebrates exposed to rapid GCC over multiple generations.

1) Widdicombe, S., Spicer, J.I., 2008. Predicting the impact of ocean acidification on benthic biodiversity: What can animal physiology tell us? Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 366(1-2), 187-197. 2) Garland, T.J., Rose, M.R., 2009. Experimental Evolution: Concepts, Methods, and Applications of Selection Experiments. University of California Press, Berkeley, USA. 3) Pistevos, J.C.A., Calosi, P., Widdicombe, S., Bishop, J.D.D., 2011. Will variation among genetic individuals influence species responses to global climate change? Oikos 120, 5, 675-689. 4) Melatunan, S., Calosi, P., Rundle, S.D., Moody, A.J., Widdicombe, S., 2011. Exposure to elevated temperature and pCO2 reduces respiration 3 rate and energy status in the periwinkle Littorina littorea. In Press. 5) Mazzapioda, M., Cangelosi, A., Nolfi, S., 2009. Co-evolving morphology and control: A distributed approach. CEC-2009 Conference on Evolutionary Computation, Trondheim, Norway. 6) Lombardi C, Rodolfo-Metalpa R., Cocito S, Gambi M.C., Taylor P.D., 2011. Structural and geochemical alterations in the Mg calcite bryozoan Myriapora truncata under elevated seawater pCO2 simulating ocean acidification. Marine Ecology 31: 211-221. 7) Lombardi C., Cocito S., Gambi M.C., Cisterna B., Flach F., Taylor P.D., Keltie K., Freer A., Cusack M., 2011. Effects of ocean acidification on growth, organic tissue and protein profile of the Mediterranean bryozoan Myriapora truncata. Aquatic Biology, DOI 10.3354/ab00376.

Expected Outcomes
1) Four scientific publications in international peer-reviewed journals, 2) Participation to postgraduate meetings in the UK, 3) Participation to one international and one national conference, 4) Outreach activities with the general public.

If you have any questions on your application, send an email to
All other information can be obtained by emailing to

MARES, 20 October 2011. Job advert.

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